One of era's great works is here
New works come and go -- are given premieres, then forgotten. Lamentably, those with some chance of lasting value often end up in the same pile of unperformed works as the flops and near misses.Skip to next paragraph
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Luciano Berio seems happily to be in a different situation. Even if his large-scale works are not as often performed in this country as they ought to be , there are recordings available to the curious so they can familiarize themselves with one of the durable greats of the second half of this century.
His newest work, "CORO," is being given its US premiere with a series of concerts. It is clearly one of the great works to come out of this era, and surely one of Berio's most fascinatingly theatrical and lyrical.It is even accessible -- the best word to describe music that is challenging yet also rewarding for the attentive, receptive listener.
The series starts with the Cleveland Orchestra in their home town, to be followed by apperances in Boston (Oct. 21) and New York (Oct. 24). In conjunction with the premiere, DG records has released the composer-led performance by the chorus and orchestra that commissioned "CORO" in the first place, the Cologne Radio Orchestra and Chorus.
Such is the complexity of the work that the Radio Chorus travels around the world to give performances of it. They will be in the US, as always under the direction of Herbert Schernus, when Lorin Maazel leads this series of US premiere performances.
Cleveland's is an ambitious, noble undertaking.To tour anything contemporary is to ask for trouble at the box office. To tour a piece that is expected by the composer to stand alone on a program -- as it must, even though it lasts barely an hour -- is to increase the challenge. Yet anyone truly interested in the state of contemporary music should not be allowed to miss this event. And if the Cleveland will not be in your area, try picking up the DG recording (2531 270) and play it at least two or three times before making any sort of judgment.
"CORO" is not an easy work (how often has that been said by writers searching for some way to begin to describe the spectacular canvas of an elaborate musical journey?). It does not reveal itself on merely a casual listen. Nor for that matter does the recordiong help in sorting out all the textures and lines of the scoring -- at times deliriously complex yet always compellingly effective, never so dense as to be merely noisy.
And throughout, there is the constant problem of language -- much of the text to "CORO" is in English, with some Spanish, French, Hebrew, and German. Almost consistently the soloists in the chorus get the inflections and even pronunciations so wrong as to render the text syllabic gibberish.
Berio was at the Berkshire Music Center in 1952 and has since been no stranger to these shores. While at Tanglewood (home of the BMC) he studied under Luigi Dallapiccola and numbered among his student peers Christoph von Dohnanyi and Lorin Maazel. On a recent visit to Boston to discuss this and other projects, Berio noted that Maazel was asked at the last minute to step in and conduct the first performance of Berio's "Due Pezzi" at Tanglewood that summer. In less than a day, the conductor, then a violinist, had fully memorized the work -- as Berio says, "An amazing memory, and such an ear!"